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‘Raging blaze jumps Route 3’ (Enterprise headline, May 17, 1991)

Readers ask about my publishing “excerpts.” The stories that make page 1 are long and detailed, so I try to give the best of the stories in this short space without short-changing the reporters who covered the event. This page 1 story is “By the Enterprise staff”:

“A raging forest fire, fueled by 20 mph winds and dry Adirondack timber, streaked through this small hamlet Thursday, gutting one trailer, forcing the evacuation of about 20 residences, and sending fire companies from as far away as Schroon Lake to the scene.

“Eight people were transported to the hospital, mostly suffering from heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation after the fire broke out about 1:30 p.m.

“Firefighters from around the region, prison inmates and students from Paul Smith’s College battled what is being termed the largest forest fire in the area in 20 years.

“The blaze began as a small grass fire behind the home of Franklin Town Supervisor Mary Ellen Keith, at the corner of Tyler and Swinyer roads. Although the cause of the fire is still under investigation, officials are speculating it may have been started by someone burning brush in the area, which got out of control because of the wind.

“Bloomingdale Fire Chief Kevin Woodruff and the rest of his crew were among the first on the scene. They worked closely with DEC officials to coordinate the efforts of the dozens of fire departments called in to assist in fighting the conflagration. Woodruff said a total of 47 fire companies were brought in from surrounding counties, estimating that 800 firemen and dozens of volunteers had participated.

“After the fire spread quickly from the back of Keith’s home to the nearby pines, Bloomingdale called for mutual aid.

“The fire traveled up Tyler Road, where neighboring residents watched in awe as more and more departments were called in. People grabbed pets, small children and personal items, carrying them away from their homes. A group of residents and on-lookers gathered at the intersection to watch the blaze.

“Dr. Reginald Brown, who lives on Swinyer Road, was called to the scene in case people needed medical attention.

“Keith was worried about elderly residents further up Tyler Road, but Dr. Brown dispelled her fears, noting that a rescue truck was already on its way to evacuate the people.

Termed as the largest forest fire in the area in 20 years, it began as a small grass fire behind the home of Franklin Town Supervisor Mary Ellen Keith, at the corner of Tyler and Swinyer roads. It was speculated that the fire began when someone burned brush in the area, which then lost control because of wind. The fire broke out around 1:30 p.m. and traveled up Tyler Road, stopping about a half mile short of Sinkhole Road, and later crowned the tops of trees and jumped Route 3. Firefighters were able to contain the fire by 9 p.m.

“The Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department was called in to stand by for Saranac Lake at 1:39 p.m., and was later called to the scene. During the fire, Lake Placid sent five trucks, including two tankers, two pumpers and a utility vehicle. More than 40 firefighters reported in and 21 were on the scene.

“Saranac Lake responded with 44 men, two rescue trucks and two fire trucks. They also supplied firefighting equipment including rakes and shovels.

“Others responding included regional fire departments from Altona to Schroon Lake, including the Plattsburgh Air Force Base, Ticonderoga, Westport, Willsboro and students from Paul Smith’s College. About 60 inmates from Moriah Shock Camp were brought in, as well as crews from the prison in Gabriels.

“The fire spread up Tyler Road and was stopped about a half mile short of the west side of Sinkhole Road. On the east side of Sinkhole Road towards Route 3 the fire spread to Shenes Ledge.

“Hot spots were reported from the air just south of Church Mountain, running along Lyon’s Brook. Dispatchers sent Ranger Gary Hodgson in to try to quell the flare-ups before they got out of hand.

“By mid-afternoon the fire was crowning on the tops of the trees and jumped Route 3. Bulldozers were being utilized to knock down trees and create a barrier on both sides of the highway. Equipment was being accessed through the Keith Road east of Route 3 to stop the blaze.

“Firemen pushed fire breaks deep into the woods on the east side of the highway and were able to contain the fire by 9 p.m. Today inmates from the Moriah camp were on their way to help mop up on the ground.

“Chief Woodruff and his First Assistant Chief Mike O’Neil discussed the coordination of the firefighting efforts. They agreed that it would be a good idea to get tighter with other local fire officials and county emergency coordinators to review and discuss the fire.”

Again, this column is but a footnote to the story that covered two full pages of the Enterprise. There were more than 10 photos by Enterprise Photographer Bella Madden D. Other stories were bylined by Ellen Ballou, Matthew Russell and Managing Editor John Penney, and a graphic of the path of the fire was made by David Ledyard.

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